Teaching the Election, Part Three

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For the last in this series, I’d like to throw a curve ball: Michael Pollan’s “The Animals: Practicing Complexity.” Unlike Steven Johnson’s “Listening to Feedback” or James Surowiecki’s “Committees, Juries, and Teams: The Columbia Disaster and How Small Groups Can Be Made to Work,” Pollan’s essay, at first glance, has no relation to politics or elections or anything other than organic farming. That’s just why I would use it. I often find that the most unexpected pairing of essays creates a kind of crucible within which students find themselves engaging in original thinking. And Pollan has to be, hands down, one of the most popular readings for students in the entire collection, which doesn’t hurt. Besides, once you look past the surface of his topic, there are rich connections to be made. Yes, Pollan is writing about his time at Polyface Farm. Yes, he’s interested in successful and sustainable organic farming. But, more than anything, what Pollan discovers is the crucial role of integrated systems in both of those topics. Polyface works because it considers the whole, and everything on the farm plays a part in that whole. There’s the connection: as with John and Surowiecki, students would again be thinking about the dynamics of groups in relation to decisions such as an election. But they would have new tools, too—tools that could help them re-envision and re-think the political system as a kind of ecosystem. It’s that kind of new thinking I love to see students discover. It’s what makes them better thinkers and writers.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.